REDWOOD FALLS - With a widespread drought threatening the nation's corn crop and the price of corn skyrocketing, concerns about the cost of feeding livestock - and feeding people - have motivated some to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard.
RFS, as it is known, is a mandate that requires blending corn-based ethanol into gasoline.
Agriculture's reaction to the repeal request was the topic of a forum at FarmFest near Redwood Falls on Tuesday.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., was among those on the panel. Although he understands that the current price of corn is bad news for the livestock industry, he doesn't believe repealing the law that puts 10 percent ethanol into every gallon of gasoline is the answer.
Complaints about government subsidies have fueled the fire, as cattlemen, hog producers and chicken farmers pay an additional cost to feed their animals.
"There is a tension here that does really exist and it is real," Franken acknowledged.
Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group, said it isn't ethanol that is driving up the price of corn; it is the drought.
"We know we are going to have less of a crop," he said. "We know it will have an impact, but I think it is a shame anyone is trying to blame ethanol for this crisis. It is Mother Nature who caused this crisis."
Rather, the drought has become a reason to attack corn growers, who are finally pulling in a high price for their product as markets demand more.
"For many years, [corn growers] were the darlings of the industry," Buis said. "Then we started being a threat to somebody else's marketplace. When you start to become a threat to someone's marketplace, you start to draw fire."
As for the allegations that ethanol uses 40 percent of the nation's corn crop, that's nonsense, according to Buis.
"That is the gross number," he noted.
After taking out the starch and returning it to livestock farmers in the form of dry distillers grains, the total usage is about 16 percent.
Chad Willis, with Minnesota Corn Growers, said his organization opposes the idea of repealing the standard.
"We are disappointed the issue divided the ag community and has divided our two largest customers," he said of the livestock and ethanol industries.
This is not the first time groups have united against ethanol.
In 2008, when corn prices were as high as they are now, the grocery industry and livestock sector began talking about "food vs. fuel" and asked the government to do something about ethanol.
But then corn prices went back down, and the debate cooled.
Franken said if ethanol is not subsidized, it would be detrimental to the push for second-generation biofuels. Cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel efforts benefit from regulation assisting corn ethanol, he argues.
"I believe ethanol is a platform for cellulosic," he said. "We don't want to abandon them. We want to be pro biorefineries."